How to Beat iOS 17 Link Tracking Protection

A new iPhone update is rolling out soon—or, depending on when you read this, it’s already out, either because you’re using the public beta version that launched in June 2023 or because you’re reading this a few weeks after we published it and iOS17 has officially rolled out for all users.

This update to the iPhone, which coincides with the release of the iPhone 15, has a lot of interesting and exciting features that will make your life more efficient or (at the very least) more exciting. You’ve got password sharing, offline map options, and even the ability to design a customized poster for each of your contacts.

But there’s one distinguishing feature that has everyone in the marketing world talking: privacy updates, specifically the Link Tracking Protection feature, which comes enabled by default in apps such as Mail, Messages, and Safari (Private Browsing). This new feature removes the tracking parameters that are automatically embedded into links by platforms like Google and Facebook. These specialized links would monitor and collect information about how users were interacting with specific links, including information about clicks, conversions, and other behavior.

But that’s not the case anymore, which (as you’ve probably guessed) makes your marketing efforts a little bit harder. Maybe even a lot harder.

Don’t worry though—if you’re smart and resourceful, and you’re willing to be flexible as the marketing world adjusts to these new changes, you can still be diligent about tracking the success of your ads.

Understanding the iOS 17 Privacy Updates

Explanation of iOS 17 privacy enhancements

We would all be pretty naïve if we acted as if we didn’t understand why people are so concerned about the privacy issues surrounding data collection. Even if it’s beneficial for marketing efforts (and from a consumer perspective, it lets us be shown ads that are more relevant to our interests), you’ve probably heard from many people that they don’t like the idea of their data being collected and used.

For an example of this situation gone wrong, think back to the Cambridge Analytica scandal. This was probably the biggest privacy scandal involving Facebook, and it ended up wrecking a lot of user trust.

Back in March 2018, the political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica accessed personal data from millions of Facebook users. It did this through a personality quiz that collected data—including demographics and interests—not only from users who took the quiz but also from their friends, all without any express consent from anyone involved. The ordeal sparked a lot of public outrage, and Facebook has since had to make significant changes to its privacy policies and data control to gain back trust from users.

On the subject of trust, it’s worth exploring why this breakdown of trust is so significant. When users don’t feel as if their personal information is being safeguarded, it makes them question the competence and responsibility of the platform that’s collecting it, whether that’s Google, Meta, or another heavy hitter in the tech world. People also might realize that their seemingly insignificant data, such as their hobbies or where they live, might actually be more valuable than they originally thought.

This explains why Apple is so intent on implementing better privacy features like the Link Tracking Protection included in iOS 17. Even though it makes marketing efforts a little harder, it helps sustain public trust in Apple.

Key features of iOS 17 privacy updates

The iOS 17 update isn’t the first time we’ve seen Apple implement features to protect user privacy. Many were introduced with the iOS 14 update, when Apple debuted what’s known as App Tracking Transparency (ATT), which was intended to give users control over what data gets shared and which online activities get tracked.

The whole idea was about user consent—it’s not that many users mind having some of their data stored, as this helps platforms show them ads that are more relevant to their interests, but instead it’s about whether users are giving permission for that data to be shared. With ATT, users had the option of giving explicit permission for their data to be collected and used.

This has since become standard for all parties that collect data, as they now obtain permission from users before collecting and processing their personal information. (Hence why you might see a small “Accept Cookies” message when you land on a website.)

Importance of link tracking protection in iOS 17

So, what does this mean if link tracking is now protected in iOS 17? Well, because this update to the iPhone removes the tag to URLs, tracking systems will no longer be able to monitor exactly what each person did when they clicked on the link. We won’t know clicks, conversions, user behavior, or similar behavior.

And this inevitably means that social media ads might see some changes…

The Impact of iOS 17 Link Tracking Protection on Social Media Ads

Overview of link tracking in social media ads

Let’s back up and address specifically how link tracking works in social media ads.

It all starts with what’s known as a tracked link—a URL created with a unique code (or “tag”) buried in its long string of letters and numbers. When this URL is shared on a social media platform as an ad, then the advertiser can use analytic tools to see any actions taken by the person who clicked the link.

Looking at your analytics, you might be able to learn what time and date a user clicked the link, what device they were using (such as their smartphone or their laptop), and what platform they saw the link posted on (such as Facebook, LinkedIn, an email, etc.), and other pertinent details. All of this can help you determine which ads are working and which ones aren’t, and they can help you make informed decisions when figuring out whether you keep a campaign going or whether you pivot in some way.

Changes in social media ads due to iOS 17 link tracking protection

Even though this kind of data can be beneficial for you from a marketing perspective, there are still people who have their concerns about privacy. They don’t want their information shared—hence why iOS 17 is protecting these links from being tracked.

Without this data to guide some of the ads run on social media platforms, many ads will be less targeted, meaning they might not be shown to precisely the right audience (or at least, not the hyper-specific audience) they would’ve been shown to in the past. That’s not to say all ads that users are shown on social media will suddenly become irrelevant—they still will be! But the targeted capabilities could be significantly diminished.

Challenges for advertisers and marketers

As an advertiser or marketer, you now face a few challenges because of this change. These analytics help you identify which strategies have been successful. They help you stick with what’s working and improve what isn’t. Unless you know your audience, it’s difficult to communicate with them in a way that you know will be effective—loss of performance insights simply makes it harder to pivot.

So, what are you supposed to do instead? Don’t worry—you still have options…

Strategies to Overcome iOS 17 Link Tracking Protection

Adapting to the new privacy-focused landscape

With this new privacy-focused landscape, it potentially will be more difficult for marketers to target their ads and change courses if they’re not getting results, but it certainly won’t be impossible. Just as you sometimes have to pivot on your marketing plans, you also have to pivot on the way you collect data.

Start by considering first-party data collection, which is when users willingly interact with your platform and offer their information—maybe because they’re subscribing to your newsletter, taking a survey, or downloading a freebie. When they’re providing this information, you can make it clear exactly why you’re asking for this and what you intend to do with it (as well as what you will never do with it, such as selling it to a third party).

Then it’s just a matter of personalization and segmentation. When you send out special offers or your monthly newsletter, you can send out different versions based on what you think might appeal to a specific customer base.

As a bonus, this practice demonstrates that you’re transparent about what you intend to do with a customer’s information. That helps build trust and stronger relationships, and sets you up to have loyal customers for life.

Leveraging alternative ad tracking methods

You also should not underestimate other ad tracking methods, such as contextual advertising or aggregating. These methods aren’t as exact as the analysis you would get with link tracking, but they still let you make some informed decisions about your potential audience, all without ever worrying about collecting data.

In the case of contextual advertising, you’re not worrying about the behavior of the audience but instead where they will see your ad. In other words, you’re advertising in places where you can safely assume your target audience already is. If you’re a wedding photographer, that might mean running ads on websites for wedding venues. If you’re a wellness coach, you might have luck advertising on a website that sells workout attire. You’re matching your ad less to a specific user and more to the context and relevant content.

Aggregate data is similar. It doesn’t look at specific users, but instead at general demographics. Think of your target customer’s age, gender, profession, education level, income level, and so forth—even if you can’t target anyone specific, you can look at the aggregate data of specific platforms with a user base that generally matches.

Optimizing landing pages and post-click experiences

Finally, don’t underestimate the importance of good selling strategy—make sure your landing page and all the options available to your visitors are worthwhile. By offering value at every step of the process, you can at least track how many people keep making their way through your funnel and where they drop out.Focus on what you can track: How many people click on your ad? Once they’re on your landing page, how much time do they spend there? Do they sign up for your newsletter? Do they make a purchase? Analyzing each step of your conversion funnel (even if you don’t know anything about the customer who is going through the funnel) gives you a general idea of where the problem might be on your end. Put another way, where are potential customers losing sight of your value—and how can you change the way you present that value to them?

The Least You Need to Know…

We’ll be the first to admit that there’s going to be a lot to figure out about this new way of tracking visitors or your conversions and measuring the success of your ads. It can be stressful! But our team at Till is committed to the success of our clients, and we revel in the chance to navigate these kinds of challenges so we can still find success for them. We know your ideal customers are out there, and we can find them for you!

So, if you are feeling overwhelmed and want our professional insight, we’d love to work with you. Reach out to us today by clicking here and let’s get started.